Bengals wide receiver Auden Tate has been a pretty intriguing name among Bengals fans since last offseason. He turned heads by making just incredible catches that made most people drop their jaws.
He has reportedly repeated that performance this offseason according to the quarterback who has been throwing him passes the most.
“It’s come to be almost normal seeing him make plays like that,” Bengals quarterback Jeff Driskel told the Athletic’s Jay Morrison. “When you know that as a quarterback that you’re able to throw some balls that you might not throw to other guys just because he can go get those. That rep you’re talking about, it was in the red zone and I threw it over everyone’s head except his. He was able to go up and get it... Auden’s had a really good spring. He’s definitely come a long way. I think he’s understanding the game more, knowing where to be and when to be there.”
We didn’t get to see much from Tate during the regular season as he spent most of his time on practice squad. It wasn’t surprising given he was a seventh-round pick and still finding his way in the NFL. Some fans may be concerned with him having to learn a new offense in his second year, but Tate actually views the coaching change as a positive.
“Obviously we switched to a different offense, but now I’m able to get it faster, retain it better and pick up on things better than I did last year,” Tate said. “When coach Taylor first got here and we started going over stuff, he did a great job of making things make sense. Even plays that have options, he makes it all tie together in some way for us to get it easier on the field. It’s actually been a better learning experience than it was last year. I got it way faster than I did last year.”
This coaching staff led by Zac Taylor is probably more likely to find a use for Tate on game days. He isn’t an every-down receiver, but the Bengals really don’t need him to be that. Inside the red zone is where Tate can be a huge help to the offense.
It also wouldn’t be surprising for Tate to be potential Tyler Eifert insurance. Even if Tate ends up on the practice squad to start the season, Tate may only be an Eifert injury away from filling his shoes in the red zone, where they both thrive. That isn’t to say that Tate will be playing tight end, but he can fill the big slot receiver role inside the 20-yard line. At the very least, Tate could at least lineup on the outside to force defenses to still respect the perimeter while someone like A.J. Green lines up in the slot for red zone plays.
It’s fair to say that Tate has the potential to be a reliable possession receiver in the NFL, but for Tate to find a spot on the Bengals’ depth chart, he needs to bring more to the table than just catching passes. He has to be able to make an impact on special teams, which coaches aren’t willing to rule him out of doing.
“You’d love to have 11 guys who can run a 4.3, but that’s not realistic,” assistant special teams coach Brayden Coombs said. “Sam Hubbard was one of our best players last year, and he probably runs a 4.7 or 4.8. So there’s spots for Auden. The thing with him is it’s just different spots than the rest of the wide receivers. He’s more competing for time with tight ends, running backs, linebackers, those guys. But the things he can do differently, that’s on me and (special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons) to figure out how do we use that to our advantage. He’s a big, strong guy. He’s a great blocker. He’s got a lot of strengths. I think that becomes our challenge, to find out how to put him in the best spots to succeed. We’re counting on him to take a big step forward and be even more of a contributor for us.”
That is pretty much where the trouble for making the Bengals (and any other team’s) 53-man roster is centered around. Can he make contributions on special teams? We already know Cincinnati loves Cody Core as a special teamer, and it doesn’t help Tate that the special teams coaches are relativity the same from last season.
What is worse is that Tate has some stiff competition from the Bengals’ undrafted receivers like Stanley Morgan Jr. (who was viewed as an early Day 3 prospect by most draft experts) and Damion Willis. Both receivers are talented in their own right, and this coaching staff has more of a connection to them than a seventh round receiver they inherited.
You may as well lock in Green, Tyler Boyd, John Ross and Alex Erickson to make the roster. We can also assume Cincinnati will carry at least six receivers since we will probably see plenty of three wide receiver sets next season. That means two (or maybe even three) spots are up for grabs with this receiver group.
Core has to be the front-runner considering he is viewed as a contributor on special teams. That leaves Tate, the undrafted receivers, and Josh Malone to battle it out for possibly the last spot. Although, if one of those from that group can shine on special teams, it certainly makes Core more expendable since he doesn’t offer much offensively.
As it stands right now, it seems like Tate will end up on the practice squad, but he would likely be a quick call up to the roster in the event of an injury to a wide receiver. It still wouldn’t be smart to bet against Tate, though.